‌“Let’s plant some trees and things!” said Kenny Lauzier, Amherst’s supervisor of landscape and grounds.

He was addressing a small crowd this Arbor Day, and the event’s mission was two-fold: to plant four young trees and to mark the College’s new status as a Tree Campus, officially recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation for its commitment to nurturing trees and to educating community members about them.

The group outside of Barrett Hall included the tree-planting crew of Karl Longto and Rachael Peters, both gardeners in Buildings and Grounds; Wes Dripps ’92, director of sustainability; Willoughby Carlo, then the Green Dean in the Office of Sustainability; and a handful of Student Sustainability Fellows.

Dripps arrived at Amherst in 2021 having helped South Carolina’s Furman University achieve Tree Campus certification. A year ago, as a fellow with the Office of Sustainability, Joseph Jerome Raymond ’24 helped Amherst apply for the program. The College is now one of 410 Tree Campuses nationwide and only seven in Massachusetts.

As Lauzier and Dripps led the group to four planting sites on campus, they talked about a few of the notable specimens that have long stood on College property, such as the rare stand of self-propagated Chinese chestnuts in the Wildlife Sanctuary and a white oak that Emily Dickinson’s family planted more than 160 years ago.

The gardeners and students  positioned each sapling in the soil according to Lauzier’s advice about how deep it should go: “Plant it high, it’ll never die. / Plant it low, it’ll never grow.” Then they shoveled on some dirt, surrounded the base of each sapling with mulch made from the fallen leaves of other campus trees, and watered everything thoroughly. 

The four new trees are a sycamore between Barrett and Chapin halls; two “Black Dragon” Japanese cedars—one between Barrett and Frost Library and the other near the Service Center; and a Southern magnolia next to the Beneski  Museum of Natural History. 

One could say that, even before it was planted on campus, the magnolia had Amherst roots: Though the College bought the tree from Sugarloaf Gardens in Sunderland, Mass., it was originally cultivated at Summer Hill Nursery in Madison, Conn.—a wholesale business started and run by Mike Johnson ’53. 

“I doubt if there are many  Amherst graduates that are in the nursery trade,” Johnson said later. He earned a B.A. in biology and history at Amherst, spent two years in the Army and worked at a plastics factory before realizing “that I could not work inside. I just wanted to be outside,” he says. “So I took a job at a local nursery.” 

Johnson went on to study at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture. After he started  Summer Hill in 1957, it became one of the first nurseries in New England to grow landscaping plants in containers.

Johnson marvels that it has been 70 years since he was a student at Amherst. Seventy years after today’s students graduate, his magnolia may still be growing on campus.

Photograph by Jesse Gwilliam; Illustration by Melinda Beck